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Court Suppresses Teenager’s Statement on ‘Rape’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 15, 2011

Court Suppresses Teenager’s Statement on ‘Rape’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 15, 2011

An investigator who approached a 17-year-old defendant “dozing” in a holding cell and told him a young woman had accused him of rape, engaged in the functional equivalent of interrogation, and a Martinsville Circuit Court suppresses the teenager’s statement that it was consensual sex, which led to a rape charge.

An investigator approached the 17-year old defendant, who was “dozing” on a mat on the floor, since he was tired and “hungover.” The investigator introduced himself and told defendant he was investigating a complaint by a named person, “a rape allegation against him.” Defendant sat up and responded “matter of factly,” “Let me tell you something. I’ve taken some criminal justice courses, and everyone knows that if she doesn’t say ‘no’ or can’t say ‘no,’ it’s consensual sex, and she never said ‘no’ while I was having sex with her. I never heard her say ‘no’ or anything, so that makes it consensual. Everyone knows that.”

The investigator never asked a question, but indicated it had been his intention to take a statement from defendant in Danville on the following day. Prior to meeting with defendant, the investigator had enough information to file a petition only for animate object sexual penetration; after the meeting, the investigator swore our petitions for rape and animate object sexual penetration.

The Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to either express questioning or its functional equivalent.

The test is whether an objective observer would view an officer’s words or actions as designed to elicit an incriminating response.

Although the test is clear, it is difficult to apply in practice, and the factual context of the officer’s words and actions is extremely important in its application. In the case at bar, defendant argues that, in confronting him with “specific allegations of criminal conduct, using the word ‘rape’ and naming the alleged victim,” the investigator subjected the defendant to the functional equivalent of interrogation. Defendant points out that, when the investigator entered the cell, the defendant, a juvenile, had been “dozing alone in the holding cell, and was awakened” by the investigator. Defendant “was never given the opportunity to contact a parent, his sister or his grandmother” before meeting with the investigator. The commonwealth contends the investigator “spoke to the defendant in a cordial tone of voice,” and that since his purpose was to let the defendant know, before he was transported to W.W. Moore in Danville, that the alleged victim had accused him of rape, defendant was not subjected to the functional equivalent of interrogation.

The court finds that, under these circumstances, an objective observer would view the investigator’s words as designed to elicit an incriminating response. Although the court does not assign an improper motive to the investigator, whom the court has always found to be forthright, the court cannot help but wonder what his purpose actually was if he was planning on formally questioning defendant the following day. Why was it necessary for the investigator to notify defendant that he was the subject of a rape investigation if the investigator did not intend to ask him any questions at that time? Should not it have occurred to the investigator that, confronted with a rape accusation, defendant, a 17-year-old boy, would likely make some kind of statement? What reaction would a seasoned investigator expect? It was entirely foreseeable that, when the investigator informed the defendant of the rape accusation, the defendant would make some kind of statement in light of the age of the defendant and the opprobrious nature of the allegation. Therefore, defendant’s answer is inadmissible on the ground that it was obtained in contravention of Miranda.

In view of the court’s ruling on the first issue, the court declines to rule on the second issue, finding that it is not necessary to rule on the voluntariness of defendant’s statement.

Motion to suppress granted.

Commonwealth v. Harris (Greer, J.) Feb. 4, 2011; Martinsville Cir.Ct.; Sandra L. Haley, PD; Paula Bowen, Ass’t Comm. Att’y. VLW 011-8-013, 4 pp.

VLW 011-8-013

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